Reporting Money to Customs to Avoid Seizure

If you are trying to avoid having your money seized by Customs, take some advice from a customs lawyer: do not throw your money at the customs officer, swear at him, and then tell him to count himself. You will get your money seized.

While this seems obvious and not something you need the advice of a customs lawyer to figure out, apparently it is not obvious to some people who get their money seized by customs.

In the case of United States v Six Thousand, Two Hundred & Fifty Dollars, etc., in United States Currency, 706 F.2d 1195 (11th Cir. 1983), the Court had to decide whether or not someone had made the required declaration of currency being transported into the United States in a unique set of circumstances, as related below:

On February 22, 1980, at approximately 12:30 a.m., United States Customs Patrol officers (“CPO’s”) observed a vessel entering the inlet at Port Everglades, Florida. The vessel was proceeding without running lights and had no visible name or registration number. The CPO’s hailed the vessel, and ¬†. . . Gerald Smith, identified himself as the captain and informed the CPO’s that the vessel was entering the United States from Nassau,¬†Bahamas.

Warning Border Crossing Sign[ . . . ]

CPO Hill observed a small leather purse under Smith’s arm. CPO Hill asked Smith what was in the purse. Smith did not respond to Hill’s question, but simply took the purse from underneath his arm and clutched it in his hand. CPO Hill then informed Smith that if he was carrying more than $5,000 in currency or negotiable instruments into or out of the United States, he had¬†to report the monetary instruments to Customs. CPO¬†Hill also briefly explained that it was not against the law¬†to transport currency or negotiable instruments into or out¬†of the United States, but that it was against the law not to¬†report the monetary instruments to Customs. Smith did¬†not respond to these statements; instead, he simply glared¬†at CPO Hill. CPO Hill then repeated his statements¬†regarding the reporting requirements and asked Smith if¬†he could examine the purse that Smith was carrying.¬†Smith responded by throwing the purse in the direction of¬†CPO Hill and stating that if CPO Hill wanted to know¬†how much was in the purse, he should count it himself.

CPO Hill opened the purse and immediately observed that it contained a sizable quantity of currency. CPO Hill then advised Smith again of the reporting requirements. Smith responded with a string of obscenities directed at CPO Hill.

It turned out there was $6,250 in this man’s purse, which back then, was over the former $5,000+ reporting requirement (note: the reporting requirement is over $10,000 now). These facts leave a lot of unanswered questions. Was the Customs officer really so persistent in explaining the reporting requirements in such a chance encounter? I doubt it. And why was the man have such a bad day, and carrying a purse?

But, those are questions I may never know…. the Court only had to answer whether or not throwing the money at the customs officer (“physical presentation” in the court’s words) satisfied the requirement to file the currency report. The court determined that physical presentation of the money did not satisfy the requirement to file a currency report to avoid seizure because physical presentation is not required: filing a report is the requirement, and the two are not equal. The court also stated that the man with the purse should have filed a currency report because the seizing customs officer told him about the requirement on two occasions during the currency seizure encounter.

So, let this be a lesson to anyone transporting currency into our out of the United States; physical presentation is not enough; nor is swearing at a CBPO a good idea, especially if you’ve got some money to lose.